This’ll be a touch self-indulgent, but I’m sure there are a bunch of you out there who are aspiring to be game developers yourselves, and since I’ve just launched my own indie game company called Flat Earth Games yesterday, I figured I’d use my space this week to list a few things you either can expect or should know when trying to go from a fan to a creator.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a few helpful pointers based on what I’ve learned so far…
- The current renaissance underway in the Australian indie game development scene is encouraging, but you can’t let that overwhelm your sense of proportion. Wild success stories like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja came from companies which had previously only barely been able to eke a living off countless other titles which failed to (no pun intended) take off.
- As long as your expectations of the marketplace are realistic and you’re happy to know you’ll have to likely find other work to support yourself while you work on your company, go for it, but your first step after figuring out your game idea should always be to figure out how balance making and releasing that game alongside still having to pay rent.
- Be realistic within yourself, as well. Single people rarely achieve greatness all on their own. The big names in indie development like Andreas Illiger and Jonathan Blow get a lot more media attention because it’s a great story, but the vast vast majority of games are made by coherent and functional teams of people, not individual prodigies. So it’s important that you honestly appraise yourself from the get-go. Are you terrible at art but great at coding? Don’t just work with what you have and fudge the art in the hopes people will think you’re being ironic, have a go at finding and working with someone. There only skill better than being able to work with others is the ability to find other people to work with. ‘Networking’, as insufferable wankers call it, is a very important thing to be able to do.
- The indie network in Australia is large and vibrant. Not all of the gold rush-style enthusiasts of indie game developers we’re currently seeing are going to strike a rich vein. Many first projects will fail to sell, but those with the strongest support networks will survive an initial failure, either through good advice on how to not bet the farm on a single release, or because others are there to help you turn a failure into something which offers enough of a return, however small, to allow you to pick yourself up and try again. So meet these people, attend IGDA Meetups (look them up on Facebook) and get to know the folks who either are of have been in your shoes.
- Don’t underestimate what it’ll take to get your product to be successful once the game is ready. Your business model, marketing strategy and PR capacity is important in getting enough of an initial user-base for your game to get it to that point where it may hit critical mass and go gangbusters. In the meantime, the slow burn, viral success stories of titles like Tiny Wings and Minecraft is the exception – not the rule.
- If you’re a creative sort who has some programming skill and is keen to make your idea happen, you’re unlikely to have much skill as an accountant, manager, lawyer or marketer. Recognise this lack (if it is indeed true in your case), and start asking questions. There’s a lot of paperwork to become a legitimate company which is best handled by professionals, and marketing, no matter how much you may dislike it, is going to be an important part of delivering your game to an audience. Your high horse might be comfy, but who the hell rides horses anymore?!?
- Keep asking questions. Keep talking to people. It’s a large community – there’s a lot of support, just don’t try and do everything in isolation.
By Leigh Harris - Bio